Wednesday, October 25, 2017

an attempt to please the owls

Someone last week mentioned "the abject" and I thought how well Gormenghast fitted that kind of state, with the position of disgusting subjection imposed on everyone by the castle's cultural structure -- not fleshy or fluidy or like the skin on milk, as in Kristeva, but an imposed closeness to insanity, and everyone passionately involved in coping with it. Alice Mills in Stuckness in the Fiction of Mervyn Peake, 2005, specifically names Swelter as an avatar of the abject (and no other character, I think?) because he is so bodily gross but if we're going to talk about Kristevan abjection then the whole form of the Law should be implicated. It shoves everyone up against a breakdown of sense and holds them there by forcing them to admire it as if it is its own opposite, complete meaning. This is not life but they have to live it. They are smelling this corpse of actual society. So. And you could push it a little bit; say that everyone's intense engagement with their own personalities is their state of joy or "vomit," that sort of ecstatic position of being in there with the abject thing, and gripping it. (Though isn't personality described as their way of distancing themselves from it and holding themselves constantly apart to create a tiny gap where they can live? But is it a gap?) And Titus is an escape from joy. "Madness has done little more for Sepulchrave than replace his servitude to ritual with an attempt to please the owls," says Mills seriously, which made me laugh.


  1. That is funny. From now on, I'll say "attempting to please the owls" instead of "ritual." Maybe there's some other comic irony specific to Gormenghast, but I haven't read that book (those books?).

    1. Three books; people argue they should be called the Titus books instead of the Gormenghast books because Titus is in all of them and Gormenghast is only remembered (not 'physically' there) in the last one but I dislike Titus (he's the one running around sulking: "I won't be abject! I'll leave!"). I must prefer people in despair to people complaining about their despair. (There's comedy in them but I'm not sure if it's ironic. He has a way of giving you things that, in other settings, would be played for humour - funny-sounding names, like Prunesquallor, or nonsense poetry about cake - but in this world they are not funny; they are just people's names, and people's poetry).